Since she first swore to protect and serve, Chief Cynthia Renaud has had her eye on Santa Monica. As a rookie cop in Long Beach, Renaud looked to the city by the sea as a leader in law enforcement and an icon. Nearly thirty years later, she was happy with her job as the Chief of Police in Folsom when she saw a chance to come back to Southern California.
“I was not looking to go to a different department,” Renaud said in an interview with the Daily Press after being sworn in as the city’s Chief of Police. “How could I resist? It’s just too much of an iconic city to let that opportunity go by.”
With an office overlooking City Hall and the Pacific Ocean, Renaud has a daunting task ahead of her. With a crime rate that rose 12 percent in 2017, Chief Renaud is in a hurry to get more cops on the street.
Her top priority is hiring 18 additional officers. Rather than asking for additional funding, she wants to quickly fill budgeted positions. The Santa Monica Police Department has struggled to keep up with the number of retiring officers amid competition from other departments for a limited recruiting pool.
“Every resident in this city should be seeing police officers throughout their day. They should see a black and white driving up and down their street,” Renaud said in an interview with the Daily Press. “That visibility piece is important. Also, we need to be communicative, accessible, open and approachable.”
Its clear visibility is top of mind for the entire department. A week before her swearing-in ceremony, the SMPD unveiled its new strategy to use Optimus Crime, the department’s massive mobile command unit, to monitor problem areas. Earlier this month, sergeants parked the 30-foot vehicle at Reed Park and a dozen officers gathered to talk to residents who had expressed concerns about criminal activity in the park.
As Renaud takes over the reins, detectives are still looking for suspects in several high-profile cases. For example, there have been no arrests in the November Palisades Park shooting that killed a young mother and injured several others. The man accused of bringing a “suspicious device” to rob a Montana Avenue jewelry store is still on the run. Renaud says catching suspects is key to reducing crime.
“Make no mistake, when you have a city where people get caught for their crimes that word spreads,” Renaud said. “That makes Santa Monica an unattractive environment for criminal opportunists.”
There were 5,076 “Part 1” incidents last year, which include murder, arson, burglary, assault and grand theft auto. The 12 percent increase came after a 5.5 percent increase in the same crimes in 2016. There was also a 3.8 percent increase in violent crime year over year.
Renaud says the math is against her when it comes to lowering the crime rate for 2018. The city was already on track for another five percent increase in crime when she was hired in March.
“It’s going to take us a while to get that percentage down because certain crimes have already occurred and we can’t change that,” Renaud said.
The department has the budget for 235 officers. Renaud says she hopes to modernize a two-year hiring process by using technology to process candidates faster.
“There’s no panacea out there. There’s no law enforcement official that has something that nobody else has tried before but there are little changes to a ton of processes along the way that together make an impact,” Renaud said.
While she adjusts to her new role managing a department of 460 personnel and an operating budget of $86.6 million, Renaud is living with a friend while her teenaged daughter finishes her sophomore year of high school in Folsom. The entire family will relocate this summer.
Renaud is following in the footsteps of another woman, former Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks, who retired in 2017 after five years as Santa Monica’s Chief. Renaud says the outgoing Chief passed on some words of wisdom earlier this year.
“Seabrooks talked a bit about the strength of this community,” Renaud said. “She said to get myself out to them as soon as possible so we can start to form a trusted relationship and work together.”